MIAMI — The Miami Heat will take the floor for more than just their season Thursday. They’ll play for three seasons.
Whether the Heat win or lose in Game 7 against the San Antonio Spurs at AmericanAirlines Arena, it figures to go down as a watershed moment in the era of the Big Three.
Win and the Heat would have multiple titles, making the teaming of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh before the 2010-11 season truly a crowning moment in NBA history. Lose and many would regard the Heat as having fallen short so far of expectations, and talk will intensify about how long the group might remain together.
“I think people need to enjoy it a little bit bit, too,’’ Wade said Wednesday about the constant talk regarding the Big Three’s legacy and future. “Because one day it won’t be here, and people are going to miss it. Let’s stop getting rid of it while it’s still here.’’
Heat fans certainly enjoyed it Tuesday. After trailing by 13 points late in the third quarter and by five in the final half minute of regulation, the Heat stormed back to win Game 6 103-100 in overtime.
That toned down the constant scrutiny of the Big Three era for at least two more days. The Heat really can silence a lot of it if they win again Thursday.
“I need it because I want it,’’ James said about being on the doorstep of another NBA title. “My only goal is to win championships. This is what I came here for. This is what I wanted to be a part of this team for.’’
James talks about hoisting trophies in the plural, not the singular. So if the Heat don’t win Game 7, his legacy will be stalled. It would make James just 1 of 4 in NBA Finals in his 10-year career. He lost with Cleveland in 2007 and with Miami in 2011 before finally breaking through with the Heat last year.
For now, James is about to step on a court for the first time with the chance to become a multiple NBA champion.
“I understand the moment for me,’’ James said. “I’ve been pretty relaxed throughout the playoffs. I’m going to be antsy. I’m going to be excited. I’m going to have some butterflies. I’ll be nervous. Everything. That’s how I should be. The moment is going to be grand.’’
If James can take care of business, he likely would become the 10th player in history to win multiple NBA Finals MVP awards. After an uneven start to the Finals, he’s averaging 23.3 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.5 assists in the series.
James on Tuesday willed the Heat to win after he shot just 3 of 12 for 14 points in the first three quarters, He scored 18 points the rest of the way, 14 after he lost his headband on a putback dunk with nine minutes left in regulation and then discarded it for the rest of the night.
“Maybe that’s why he had success,’’ Heat forward Shane Battier said of James sans headband. “The Spurs had trouble finding him and recognizing him. They thought he was somebody else, his cousin Larry James. He used a little stealth to produce down the stretch.’’
James joined in the lighthearted talk Wednesday about his headband. He said the last time he played that long without it was during the preseason of his Cavaliers rookie season of 2003-04, but he put it back on after not doing too well.
“I’ll probably start off with it, man,’’ James said about Game 7. “A little superstitious. If it gets knocked off, then me and him will have a discussion if he will return.’’
But while talk about the headband got plenty of laughs, there does remain an element of concern in the Big Three’s camp. How effective can Wade be as he continues to battle knee problems?
Wade sat out the first 1½ minutes of the second half in Game 6 after he took a shot on his left knee, the one that required surgery last summer. Wade already is playing with a bone bruise on his right knee that causes great pain.
“It just swelled up,’’ said Wade, who did score eight of his 14 points after intermission. “It was stiff. I couldn’t do as much as I wanted to. I just tried to do whatever I could.’’
Wade admitted his knee was swollen and stiff when he got up Wednesday. But he vows to play through it.
“There’s one game left,’’ Wade said. “Whatever you have inside of you, you muster it up, you give it. So I’ll be fine.’’
If Wade, who also was on Miami’s 2006 championship outfit, can win a third ring, one has to say that makes the Big Three era quite successful regardless of what eventually happens. If the Heat fall short, the health and age of Wade, 31, only would add to the uncertainty about the future.
James, Wade and Bosh, each of whom will be paid next season in the vicinity of $19 million, all can opt out of their contracts in the summer of 2014 and become free agents. The move is a no-brainer for James, who will be dogged next season by rumors about returning to Cleveland, but who could end up re-signing with the Heat at a higher salary.
It should be a no-brainer that Wade doesn’t opt out and plays until his contract expires in 2016. The battered Wade wouldn’t be able to make back the $41.6 million he’s due in the final two years of his contract.
Bosh, owed $42.7 million on his final two option years, offers the biggest question marks. Would the Heat consider trading him? Could he get paid that kind of money if he opted out?
The latter looks now like a long shot due to Bosh having been inconsistent throughout the postseason. But he did save Miami’s season with an offensive rebound he kicked out to Ray Allen for a game-tying 3-pointer Tuesday with 5.2 seconds left in regulation. Bosh also had two key blocks in overtime.
“You just focus on (Thursday),’’ Bosh said about whether the Heat are playing Game 7 in part for how the era of the Big Three will be perceived. “I don’t focus too much on the era or too much like that. You come to work day by day and do what you’re supposed to. When we’re all retired and done playing together, we’ll look back and say we did a pretty good job. Right now, you can’t really worry about that.’’
If the Heat win Game 7, the Big Three days really figure to be looked back upon one day with pride. If Miami loses, it becomes much more murky.